Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goodbye to Teaching

I'm used to saying goodbye to students come late May every year, but last week was different. I wasn't just saying goodbye to students for the summer, but to teaching altogether. The decision didn't come easily.

My first year teaching, 2002. Songwriting
students and me in the lower right hand corner.
I love teaching, and teaching writing itself forced me to grow into a better writer, a better reader, and an all around better person. On top of that, the colleagues and students I've had over the years are some of my favorite people ever. "Why leave then?" you're probably wondering. Partly, it's because my wife and I are moving, but, sadly, the answer has mostly to do with money. Simply put, I can't afford to be a writing teacher anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this, many of them having to do with systematic problems in the administration of higher education, but I don't have any solutions to offer, so I'm not going to complain. What it came down to for me was that after twelve years in the classroom, I've reached my zenith career-wise in academia. I have no PhD and my professional writing credits are in the speculative fiction field, which adds up to being permanently stuck as an adjunct (part-time) instructor, particularly with the trend in higher education of relying even more heavily on adjuncts in recent years.

A going away gift from the Creative Writing
Conservatory at OCSA, 2015.
At times I've felt like a mercenary writing instructor, teaching up to seven classes a term at three different institutions, each considered a part-time job with no benefits, but combined adding up to ludicrous hours not only in the classroom, but also prepping for lectures and grading. Mostly, though, I've enjoyed my time teaching and helping young people find their voices as writers, and if I could keep doing it and create a secure future for my wife and I, I would. Teaching for the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Orange County School of Arts (OCSA), particularly, has been a great experience. Jim Blaylock brought me on in 2002 to teach a songwriting course, which then expanded into teaching a slew of other creative writing courses, including classes on spec-fiction, novel writing, zombies, and comic-book writing. And it was at OCSA that I got to know Tim Powers and met lifelong friends, both in the faculty and among the students. Similarly, although to a lesser extent, teaching at Chapman University has been highly rewarding. The students have always been respectful to me and receptive to my techniques, despite whatever misgivings they might have had about writing coming in. The faculty within the English Department have been great as well.

So what does this mean for me moving forward? It means taking on a full-time day job as a copywriter, which, believe it or not, will be less work than what I've been doing. Granted, it won't be as personally rewarding, but it will open up a lot of time for reading and writing, which I am very excited about. I haven't had much time for pleasure reading the last ten years, so I'm looking forward to getting caught up on current work in the spec-fiction field. Most importantly, with the change I'll be writing like a fiend from now on.

Souldrifter is slated to come out this summer from Diversion Books, and then I'll be working on the third installment in the Dreamwielder Chronicles as well as my standalone cli-fi novel, Remember the Future. After that, who can say? I have a lot of crazy ideas percolating in my brain—it's time to start getting them out!

-Garrett Calcaterra

(Addendum: 5/28/15 5:55PM PST - Several people have asked me offline to comment more on the problems I've experienced as an adjunct. I don't want to single out any of the schools I've worked for, but here are a couple of recent articles from the NY Times that I've found to be pretty spot on: 1) The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much, 2), What's the Point of a Professor.)